A Movie A Day #246: Bloodsport (1988, directed by Newt Arnold)


Bloodsport is one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earliest films and it is Damme good!

Forgive the terrible opening line but that is how they actually used to advertise Jean-Claude Van Damme films.  Everything was either Damme exciting or Damme amazing or Damme spectacular.  Though it was made by Cannon and had a much lower budget than the films Van Damme made during his 90s heyday, Bloodsport is still a Damme quintessential Van Damme movie.

Bloodsport claims that the story it tells is true.  Frank Dux (Van Damme) is a U.S. Army captain who goes AWOL so he can compete in Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament that is held in Hong Kong.  Kumite is the only martial arts tournament where it is legal to kill your opponent.  Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) became champion by killing anyone who lasts more than a minute with him.  At first, no one believes that an American like Frank Dux has a chance of winning the Kumite.  What they do not know is that Frank was trained by the legendary Senzo Tanaka.  Frank is not just competing for personal glory.  He is also competing in honor of Tanaka’s dead son.

Bloodsport is both Van Damme and Cannon Films at their best.  Shot on location in Hong Kong, Bloodsport not only features Van Damme doing his thing but also gives him a memorable sidekick, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), who talks like a professional wrestler and gets all of the best lines.  When Ray and Frank first meet, they bond over a video game that appears to be an extremely early version of Street Fighter.  Also keep an eye out for Forest Whitaker (!), playing one of the CID officers who is assigned to track down Frank and arrest him for desertion.

Like any good Van Damme film, Bloodsport lives and dies on the strength of its fights and it does not skimp on the blood, the chokeholds, or the high kicks.  Bolo Yeung is a great opponent for Van Damme but everyone know better than to try to beat Jean-Claude Van Damme.  When it comes to fighting Van Damme, Duke put it best:

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A Movie A Day #61: Kickboxer (1989, directed by Mark DiSalle and David Worth)


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Of the second tier action stars of the late 80s and 90s, Jean-Claude Van Damme was perhaps the best.  Dolph Lundgren may have been a better actor but he could not match Van Damme’s athleticism.  Steven Seagal, in the years of before the weight gain, was rumored to be a more authentic martial artist but everyone knew he was also an asshole and couldn’t act worth shit.  Van Damme was always fun to watch, especially if you were a kid at the time his movies were in the theaters or showing up on a cable.  Everyone wanted to be Jean-Claude Van Damme after watching one of his best movies.  So what if he was a stiff actor with a thick accent?  That hadn’t hurt Schwarzenegger or Stallone.

Kickboxer was the film that introduced most people to Van Damme.  Kurt Sloane (Van Damme!) is the cornerman for his brother, Eric (Dennis Alexio), America’s kickboxing champion.  Eric is lured to Thailand to fight the viscous Tong Po (Michel Qissi, a childhood friend of Van Damme’s).  How evil is Tong Po?  He is so evil that, when Kurt tries to throw the towel and end the fight, Tong kicks the towel out of the ring.  That’s evil!

What are you doing here, Duke!?

What are you doing here, Duke!?

After the fight leaves Eric crippled, Kurt gets revenge the only way he can.  He enters the ring and takes on Tong Po, himself!  They fight the ancient way, with both of their hands covered with broken glass.  When you’re 12 years old and watching an R-rated film on HBO, that is really cool.  Of course, before Kurt can enter the ring, he has to go through a training montage with Xian Chan (Dennis Chan) and fight off Tong Po’s sponsor, local gangster Freddy Li (Ka Ting Lee).

Rewatching Kickboxer, I saw it was even more predictable than I remembered.  At the same time, it was impossible not to, once again, get caught up in that final fight between Kurt and Tong Po.  The montages may have been silly.  The soundtrack may have been cheesy.  Van Damme may have been even more uncertain of an actor than I remembered but it did not matter.  Kickboxer may be dumb but it’s still really cool.  Within a few minutes of watching Kickboxer, I was a kid again and I was having the time of my life.

As for Jean-Claude Van Damme, he went through some well-publicized troubles but he emerged from it all as a far better actor.  Just check out JCVD if you get the chance.

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Trailer: The Expendables 2 (Official)


In 2010 Stallone released his love letter to all things 80’s action with his ensemble actioner The Expendables. The film was a modest success, but not the huge one some thought it would be considering it’s cast was made up of action stars of the past 20-30 years. Yet, it’s box-office numbers made the studio heads at Lionsgate happy enough that they greenlit a sequel.

This sequel, The Expendables 2, finally gets it’s official trailer and it looks to be more of the same as the previous film, but to a new level. The previous comes back with expanded roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenneger who had brief cameos in the first film. This sequel also adds Chuck Norris to the cast and Jean-Claude Van Damme in the role of the film’s villain. There’s really no need to explain the plot of the film. What audiences should expect is lots of gunfire, explosions, testosterone-laced interaction between the actors and more explosions.

Stallone backs off the director’s chair this time around and hand’s over to veteran action director Simon West.

The Expendables 2 is set for an August 17, 2012 release date.

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)


In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Super Bowl TV Spot)


Here’s another tv spot to air during Super Bowl XLV and this time around it’s the one for the upcoming sequel to Dreamworks Animations very popular and successful Kung Fu Panda.

This one using that Queen arena anthem chant from “We Will Rock You”. The 30-second ty spot shows more action with the requisite panda shenanigans from Jack Black’s character.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is one sequel I’m definitely hyped to see as the first film I ended up watching over and over and over and over and over again. The film comes out on May 26, 2011.

Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom teaser trailer


One of my favorite films of 2008 was an animated film and it wasn’t from Pixar. I’m talking about the Dreamworks Animation release for the summer of the year that was awesome in its very awesomeness. The film I talk of is Kung Fu Panda. It was a film that was fun and more than just a bit inspiring for its message of persevering through obstacles and doubts to achieve one’s dream. That was what I got out if it anyway in addition to what the little ones got which was THE big, fat panda (voiced by the panda-looking one himself Jack Black) doing kung fu in all its awesomeness and bodacity.

It will take another three years before such awesomeness and bodacity returns to the silver screen and in awesome and bodacious 3D. This summer of 2011 will see the return of the Dragon Warrior himself, Po as he must confront a new danger in the form of Gary Oldman voicing some perpetuator of evilness and douchebaggery on the simple talking animals peasants.

Now, time for some kung fu staring contest!